Smart 55: Place names have rich history

Many of the names for places in the Cariboo have come from the gold rush era, and some come from even earlier times.

Many of the names for places in the Cariboo have come from the gold rush era, and some come from even earlier times.

I thought that I would provide a random sampling of some of these names and a brief, but interesting history of how they came to be.

Chimney Creek — around 1842, the Roman Catholic missionaries built a small cabin to serve as both a shelter and a church near the Shuswap village by the Creek’s outlet to the Fraser River.

In the mid 1850s it burned to the ground. All that was left standing was the rough stone chimney.

This became a landmark for the gold seekers who came via the river route heading towards the gold fields. The nearby creek became known as Chimney Creek.

Sugar Cane — in 1884, after pressure from the oblate priests, judge Begbie, and young Chief William, the B.C. government officially designated just under 1,000 acres as an Indian Reserve.

It was named after the common reed grass (scientific name of Phragmites Australis) which grows in abundance in the marshy areas of the valley.

This grass, which can grow up to six feet and more in height, reminded the early white settlers from the southern states of sugar cane plants.

Dog Creek — There are two stories. The first is that this village was named after an old Shuswap leader who was noted for his skill and prowess as a warrior. His name was Skaha, which means dog in the native language.

The second story is that during the gold rush, as gold seekers were heading up towards the gold fields along the river trail, as they came close to this village, many dogs would rush out to meet the traveller.

Canoe Creek — This was a village on the other side of the Fraser River from Dog Creek.

It was a place where travellers coming up on the west side of the Fraser could pay to be ferried across the river in a canoe.

It was only natural that the creek which entered the Fraser at that point would become known as Canoe Creek.

Springhouse — There was a stopping house on the way between Dog Creek and 150 Mile House, established around 1861.

It was situated beside a natural spring, known for its fresh, clear and cool water. This spring was St. Peter’s Spring, and the roadhouse became known as Spring House.

The spring is still there today, near the old Linde sawdust piles.

Some of the place names came to us from the time of the French HBC fur traders and the voyageur explorers.

Quesnel, Quesnel Forks — Named after Simon Fraser’s right hand man, Jules Maurice Quesnelle.

On their expedition down the Fraser River in 1808, the river and lake were named in his honour. Later on, when a village grew up at the confluence of the Quesnelle and Fraser rivers, it became known as Quesnellemouth, and later was shortened to Quesnel.

Lac La Hache — This lake was known by the local First Nations people as Kumatakwa, which translates into “pretty or dancing waters.”

It had long been a traditional meeting place for the First Nations groups. During the fur trade years, between 1820 and 1850, a French Canadian HBC trader was chopping a hole in the ice one winter when the handle of his axe broke.

The axe head fell into the lake and was lost.

The story was passed along and the lake became known as the Lake of the Axe — Lac La Hache.

Horse Lake — This was another lake named by French Canadian fur traders.

Shortly after freeze up one winter, some pack horses wandered out onto the ice, fell through and were drowned.

The lake became known as Lac Des Chevaux Noyes — the Lake of the Drowned Horses.

During the gold rush era, this was shortened in English to Horse Lake.

The Spanish (Mexican) packers also had their influence on place names around the area.

San Jose River — On early maps, this river was known as Riviere du Columneetza, presumably named by the French Canadian fur traders.

However, after the St. Joseph’s mission was established in 1872, the Spanish speaking packers began using the nearby grasslands as a stopping place for their animals, and they called the river after the mission — San Jose or in English, St. Joseph’s.

Pablo Creek — This was originally called 4 Mile Creek (4 miles up from the Fraser River crossing.) Then one of the packers, Pablo Tresierra homsteaded next to the creek, and gradually it became known as Pablo’s Creek, over the years shortened to Pablo Creek.

Spanish Lake — The famous packer, Jean Caux, or Cataline had a pack route which came up from Fort Kamloops to Barkerville.

He established a camp at the edge of this lake where he kept several pack animals and some of his drivers.

It did not take long for the lake where the camp was situated to become known as Spanish Lake.

Another influence on local names was Chinook, the unique B.C. trading language consisting of a jargon of English, French and First Nations words.

Nothing like it has ever existed anywhere else in the world. All over B.C. are names which have their roots in Chinook, but in the Cariboo we find:

Tyee Lake — Tyee is the Chinook word for Chief, so Tyee Lake is Chief’s Lake or the boss (biggest) lake.

Canim Lake — Canim is Chinook for canoe, so Canim Lake is Canoe Lake.

Nesika — Nesika means we, us or our in Chinook, so Nesika school is literally “our school.”

Some other Chinook terms which were in common use over the years are Chuck (water), hence the term “salt chuck,” skookum (big or mighty), tillicum (friend), and Kla how ya (hello).

These have been just a small sampling of some of the Cariboo place names and how they came about.

There are literally thousands of others. Someone should write a book about them.

It would make fascinating ready.

Barry Sale is a freelance columnist with the Tribune/Weekend Advisor.

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